Civic group looks for solutions to education issues

With parents, educators, community leaders and government officials concerned about reoccurring incidents involving black males and crime, the Atlanta Chapter of the Links Inc. sponsored a community forum on Dec. 9 to seek solutions.

“Educating African American Young Men – What’s Working?” was presented at the M. L. King Middle School in NE Atlanta. The forum was an attempt to take a positive look at educating black boys.

“Too often, we hear the negative stereotypes. We don’t hear enough about the good things that are happening,” said Link Sadie Dennard, regional manager with Georgia Power.

The community forum was moderated by local television reporter, Aungelique Proctor, and included representatives of several organizations and programs that have been effective in helping black boys to succeed including included Henry Kelly, of Georgia Power and 100 Black Men, Renita Moore of the Posse Foundation, Starla Hairston-Banks of Morehouse School of Medicine, Lesley Grady of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, and Demetrius Cleveland, a math teacher at Ralph Bunche Middle School.

“We’re bringing the community together with the best minds and best ideas. We’re here because we care and we know that you do, too,” said Link Francine Greer, a retired vice principal with Atlanta Public Schools and co-chair of the Links’ Manhood GPS Program.

The Atlanta Chapter of the Links Inc. has operated Project LEAD, an award-winning enrichment program at M.L. King Middle School for the past 30 years.

This year, the chapter also initiated a new program specifically targeting black boys called Manhood GPS. The program was funded by the Links Foundation, through a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The two-year program will operate from 2015 – 2017 and currently includes 13 seventh grade boys and 12 adult male mentors.

“Our ultimate aim is for the students to graduate high school and go to college. We know that failure to graduate is associated with lots of negative consequences, such as imprisonment,” said Link Myra Burnett, interim provost of Spelman College and co-chair of the Manhood GPS Program.

When asked why a women’s group is supporting a program for males, she answered, “We are community. The fact that we focus on one aspect doesn’t mean we’re not concerned with the community as a whole.”

Established in 1946, The Links Inc. is an international, non-profit organization of more than 12,000 African-American women in 275 chapters in the U.S. and abroad. As one of the nation’s oldest and largest volunteer service organizations, the women support initiatives in national trends and services, the arts, international trends and services, health and human services and services to youth.

By the end of the event, several ideas had surfaced including treating the education problem as a public health issue, to partnering with mentors, to getting students involved in academic pursuits outside the classroom.

“Students may be behind grade level, but you have to meet the students where they are. Growth is the key,” said Paul Brown, principal at M.L. King Middle School. “A good teacher can close the gap. Many students are visual learners who want to see how things work. Providing field trips, exposure, opportunity to find out how school work relates to real life is key.”